Waves of immigration enriched America’s vernacular music throughout the nineteenth century, as songs and dances of various ethnic heritage became popular. Minstrelsy attracted a wide following. Stephen Foster wrote minstrel songs as well as sentimental parlor ballads and patriotic songs. Many Civil War songs, by Foster and others, remain well known today. Concert bands entertained with marches, dance tunes and programmatic piece, and further stimulated the music publishing industry in America.
21. Daniel Decatur Emmett: “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land”
22. Stephen Foster: “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”
23. Stephen Foster: “Oh! Susanna”
24. John Stafford Smith: “The Anacreontic Song” (“Anacreon in Heaven”)
Discuss some of the reasons minstrelsy became so popular just at the time of rising tensions between North and South and between whites and blacks. Which does it reflect more: white people’s contempt for, or fascination with, black culture?
What might be some of the reasons that blacks performed—in blackface—on the minstrel stage after the Civil War?
Do you recognize any echoes of the minstrel tradition in contemporary American culture? In his book Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, W. T. Lhamon Jr. suggests (in a picture on the book jacket) a relationship between a minstrel performer dancing in the 1840s and M. C. Hammer performing in the 1990 hip-hop video “Hammer Time.” Can you support or refute Lhamon’s suggestion?
Would you choose “The Star Spangled Banner” or another patriotic song as America’s national anthem? If another, which one, and why?
A young divinity student named Samuel Francis Smith set the words to one candidate for the American national anthem, “America,” to a German tune, “Heil Dir im Siegerkranz,” also used as the Prussian national song and the British royal anthem as well. (There had been Dutch, Danish, French, Swiss, and Austrian versions, too.) Oliver Wendell Holmes (a close friend of the poet) suggested that had the poet written “Our country” instead of “My country, ‘tis of thee” the hymn would not have been “immortal.” Do you agree or disagree that the choice of “My” instead of “Our” was a “master stroke”?